By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS)—Villanova is playing with “house money” to be in the NCAA tournament this year. The Wildcats are young and a major surprise this season, thanks in large part to play of freshman guard Ryan Arcidiacono, and a starting crew that features two sophomores, a junior and a freshman.
Wildcats’ coach Jay Wright did a fantastic job in being patient, though more importantly, having trust in Arcidiacono and allowing him to grow through mistakes.
The reward is a team whose nucleus is a year away from going deep into the tournament. During the last week in January, Villanova knocked off No. 5 Louisville and No. 3 Syracuse. That served as a glimpse of what’s to come—over the next few seasons. Not yet this year.
Villanova will play North Carolina, an ACC at-large bid.
Here is how they shape up:
When: Friday, 7:20 p.m., TNT in Kansas City, Mo., NCAA South Region
Villanova: Record 20-13
Mouphtaou Yarou, F 6-10, Sr. (9.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg)
JayVaughn Pinkston, F 6-6, So. (12.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg).
Ryan Arcidiacono, G 6-3, Fr. (12.2 ppg, 3.5 apg)
Darrun Hilliard, G 6-6, So. (11.5 ppg)
James Bell, G 6-6, Jr. (8.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg)
Best wins: Louisville, Georgetown, Marquette.
North Carolina: Record 24-10
James McAdoo, F 6-9, So. (14.6 ppg, 7.6 rpg)
P.J. Hairston, G 6-5, So. (13.6 ppg)
Marcus Paige, G 6-0, Fr. (7.6 ppg, 4.6 apg)
Dexter Strickland, G 6-3, Sr. (7.8 ppg, 4.0 apg)
Reggie Bullock, G/F 6-7, Jr. (14.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg)
Best wins: North Carolina State, UNLV.
Summary: North Carolina averages 77.2 points a game, that’s ranked No. 14th in the country. Tar Heels’ coach Roy Williams saw his team struggling early and made a lineup adjustment, going smaller and winning with offense.
This is where the Wildcats have to watch themselves. By contrast, Villanova is No. 160 in the country in scoring, averaging 67.8 points a game. Slowing the game down benefits Villanova. The Wildcats are ranked No. 323 in turnovers given up a game this season, averaging and un-Jay Wright-like 15.7 turnovers a game.
Prediction: Villanova stays close and makes this a fun, back-and-forth open game. But Marcus Paige may be a little too much for the Wildcats to stop, as the Tar Heels squeak by, 82-79.
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.